Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Work & Play

Reflecting on the highly controversial book by Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and looking back on my personal upbringing, I must say I've been incredibly fortunate to have my dad made me do things for my good which I didn’t particularly dislike, like working on English, Math and Science assessment books on top of my piling homework in school; but the key thing was, he afforded me balance in work and play. When I would come home from school and start on my homework and assessment books after lunch right through till evening time, at 6pm typically, he would say, “Enough homework now, go out and play, because all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

For that I am extremely thankful, because that value never left me - I don’t push myself to hard work to the point of collapse or burnout - each day is made up of a nice balance between work and play.

Work, to me, apart from paid assignments, is anything that advances my personal development, which, in future, may result in a paid assignment. Like researching, reading, networking, writing, strategizing.

Play, to me, is anything that evokes relaxation and a feeling of non-pressure. Like my sports training, watching movies, having a meal with my loved ones and friends, cracking nuts over the fireplace, having freshly cut fruits and chatting.

If I were to isolate work to solely income-generating types, I would be highly discouraged because I am a work in progress and every little activity I take, in reading, researching, networking, etc, are eventually helping me to get to a point where I would be valued and paid for my contribution in my field of expertise.

Sounds obscure? Totally. Who can look into the future and know exactly what's in store? We plan, strategize and take steps *there. But even we aren't certain if our steps will lead us *there. But while the future is uncertain, one thing I'm certain of - the future's not dark - it's bright - and simply with that guiding light, I'm walking in and ahead.

*there = that aha point in the future where we proclaim and acknowledge, "we've arrived/accomplished"

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The single parent

What’s it like to live alone from Mon to Thu, and to see your son only on the weekends?

What’s it like to wake up at 4.30am; fix a quick simple breakfast of toast, bacon, eggs and coffee;

head out the door at 5.30am for a 90-mile (read: a full hour) drive to your workplace;

organize, shuffle and deliver parcels and mails on a 8-hour shift;

speak to no one in particular except for the occasional courtesy nods and smiles to house owners watering their plants in the front garden or driving their fancy cars out of the garage;

end your workday with a change of clothes and a quick rush for your car so as to avoid the deadlock evening traffic to make an hour and a half drive back home (there’s really no escaping the evening traffic at all);

turn up the volume from the radio to drown out the melodrama of an uneventful work day and the chaos of the buzzing traffic,

blink back at the bright green, amber and red lights flashing;

reach home and unlocking the door to a quiet house save for the silent hum of the refrigerator;

fix yourself a simple dinner of salad and eggs;

work on the backyard for an hour or two;

take a hot shower and call it a day -

and to repeat this over the next four work days...

What’s it like for this single, male parent?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

My Stars

When I was little, I used to hear of inspirational men and women who reached the pinnacle of success in their chosen field or sport, and used to be so warmed up in my heart I saw stars and dreamt of attaining such greatness myself, one day. But I never knew how, and by what manner I'd accomplish that.

But now I know. As clear to me as these words I'm writing and you're reading, I know exactly what my stars are and I know they know me in return, and have been calling me from that young tender age when I didn't know any better or saw any clearer.

My stars came into my universe, not on my doing. They came because it is meant to be so, and though the passage of time they travelled to get to me was a long and windy one, they came nonetheless, neither too late nor too obscure.

They come clear and strong, and takes me by surprise at their magnificence and dominance in my life right now.

Sometimes there's a voice that drives, a voice so strong it fuels a burning fire within to dig deeper, to stretch wider, to reach farther. That, is the voice of my stars.

My stars are mapping my destiny, and as long as I remain open each and every single day, to the voice, light and guidance of my stars, I'm on course to what I've dreamed of so many years ago as a little girl.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How I Started Running

I was admitted to the hospital at age 11 due to gastric pains. Since then, my mom always made sure I had more than enough to eat.

As a result, I was always on the plump side, was extremely conscious of the unflattering flab around my waist, and struggled with pathetically low self esteem.

Yet, as far as I can remember, I have always been athletic, from a tender age. I was naturally inclined towards sports, because I was so ultra hyper and bounding with endless energy.

I played netball for my school and the local district, was in track and field, ran medium distances (400m, 800m); threw shot put, javelin, and discus; but sucked greatly in long and high jump - I suspect my short stature had a lot to do with my inability to perform those jumps.

Despite my sporting activity spanning over 20 hours weekly in school, I struggled to shed off my baby fats, particularly those stubbornly and faithfully layering my thick waist.

My struggle with low self esteem went on right throughout my working career. I was eating loosely, feeling lousy and slipping into decadence. At my heaviest, I weighed 58 kg. For a 5.3 footer, I was overweight.

That was a wake up call - that I was overweight, and I needed to change. I tried to exercise, but found little motivation to keep me going. I struggled to run even 20 minutes before giving up.

Then I re-discovered a childhood passion for swimming (as a child, my father used to bring my siblings and I swimming in the open sea every Sunday when the tide was high).

Fast forward ten years later, there was a public swimming pool right next to where I lived, and everyday as I stepped out of the house, I would see the pool. Looking back, I think the pool was strategically placed right where I could see it daily so I would start swimming again.

So swim I did. For 4 years. Faithfully, I’d swim 20 laps, 3 times a week, for 4 years.

When I met my husband-to-be, I continued with my swimming routine, and was motivated to shed more pounds.

Yet despite the thrice weekly swim sessions I committed myself to, I was not seeing results.

The last straw came a month before my wedding day. I was in the bathroom, and staring back at me from the mirror was one who hadn’t transformed in size and weight, despite years of faithful swimming.

Discouraged and at my wits end, I dialled the number of a liposuction doctor, fixed an appointment and went to his clinic at downtown Orchard Road. Throughout the entire consultation session, I felt horribly guilty for keeping mum about my insecurity from my husband-to-be and secretly contemplating a liposuction. Good news was, I chickened out and never paid the thousands of dollars to get fats sucked out of my belly.

Well, for all its worth, that encounter turned things around - I had a moment of enlightenment when I decided enough is enough, and resolved to get real, active and focused on shedding off fats through sheer hard work, and not artificially, which I couldn’t afford to pay for anyway.

So I increased the frequency of my swims from thrice weekly to 7 times a week. From swimming 20 laps each session, I increased that to 40 laps, sometimes 50. And I was obdurate about it - I wouldn’t let a day go without swimming.

I swam every single weekday after work - I would knock off at 6pm, get home in an hour, grab my gear and hit the pool at 8pm and swim till 9pm, then head home for dinner - typically a bowl of plain porridge with a meat and vege. On weekends, I’d be the first to hit the pool at 9am, and swim an hour like my life depended on it.

I think my track and field coaches back in junior school saw it in me before I did - that I’m genetically stocked with aerobic endurance in my bones and muscles - when they made me run medium distances instead of sprint distances, which I protested, because sprinters were cool and got more attention than medium distance runners. Speed always does, doesn’t it?

From 40 laps I increased it with time, to 50, and at my peak, I was swimming 60 laps a day - for no rhyme, reason or race in mind - simply because it was a natural progression.

After a couple of months, it was impractical to swim in the evenings anymore - it was getting in the way of my social life - I couldn’t head out for dinner or coffee with my friends after work because I had the pool calling out my name every weekday evening. So I made a timing switch - to swimming first thing in the morning before work.

Because I leave the house for work at 7am, I resolute to wake up at 5am, swim an hour from 5.30-6.30am and make a mad dash to leave home by 7am.

Only one problem: public pools don’t open at 5.30am - most pools do at 9am. I consulted a friend, who offered me the use of his condo pool - although the official opening hours begin at 10am, it was after all, a private condo and residents should be allowed use of the condo facility, even at ungodly hours, so he convinced me.

So started my little adventure (or misadventure, as you’d soon discover). I’d sneak into the condo at 5.30am and swim for an hour. Believe me, it was no fun - I felt like a moron throwing my body into a volume of cold water in pitch black darkness - simply because I was driven by a persistent desire to work out an hour every day.

I successfully went unnoticed for 2 weeks, until one of the security guards patrolling the pool noticed a girl who clearly wasn’t a resident, swimming at 5.30am every weekday morning, unaccompanied, and driving off after the swim. You can imagine my horror when I was asked out of the water, shivering in the cold, and questioned as to why I was swimming at that hour, and given a stern warning not to repeat my act again.

Deprived of a pool to swim in, I lamented my predicament to my husband-to-be. Wise as he is, he suggested: why not run instead? I protested, remembering how running made my legs big and fat, and did nothing to make me lose any weight. I associated running to hard pounding, an ineffective weight loss activity. He persuaded me to give it a try, seeing I had no other alternatives. Try, he said, for a week, and see how it goes.

True to his word, the very next morning, he accompanied me on my first run. We ran 20 minutes, before he started slowing down and walking, and seeing I was still fresh, asked me to carry on running. I did, and outran him for another 20 minutes.

It wasn’t so bad after all.

The next day I nudged him for another run. He gave excuses and had me running on my own, that day, and every day after that.

That was 4 years ago, and I have been running on my own since.

I began running every single day from that fateful day onwards, 7 times a week, averaging 10 km each day. I started losing weight rapidly, shedding 10 kg in 6 months. I dropped to 48 kg, felt on top of the world, and never looked back on running.

4 years ago, I struggled to run 6 km on my first run; 4 years later, I’ve ran 2 full marathons, 2 half marathons, a couple of medium distance races, and in the last 2 years, completed an Olympic distance triathlon, 2 half Ironman triathlon distances and attempted a full Ironman triathlon race.

Running brings me tremendous pleasure because it entirely changed my life for the better - all that I am and exhibit today, is a result of a love affair with a sport that is the rawest form of human athleticism, and when we reach into the core of the human heart and soul to rekindle a connection with that which we are born to do, i.e. to use our bodies wisely, it changes us not just physically; but emotionally, mentally and spiritually. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The pain of training

As much as the indelible memories and pretty pictures of the scenes I witnessed and captured from my bike and run evoke envy, truth is, training is nothing short of hard work.

When I’m out training, I'm battling both myself and the elements.

The pain is real, the pain is now. The end (of each training session) is a distant image, because at the present moment, my lungs are short of air, my muscles are sore, my legs feel heavy like lead, my body is tense from the relentless lashing of the cold wind unleashing its might and fury here in the Bay area. When I’m swimming, the difficulty increases many notches, being the discipline I’m least proficient in - often, I feel like I’m fighting my biggest demons before entering the water and during the swim. It’s such a mental torture, yet I keep at it day after day.  

I may not confess this often enough, but I do now: I’m not a naturally gifted athlete, so I work doubly hard to be a better athlete than I think I’m capable of.  

Training is a tough task master that challenges me in every possible way - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually sometimes (when I let out a great big sigh and whisper under my breath: Lord, please help me through this - I can’t do this by myself).

Yet, through it all, I love training. I love the distance it pushes me to go, the limitations it makes me break and the walls it makes me climb.

For all that we’ve been through, training is like a close buddy I’ve developed a relationship and affection for, and can’t do without.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Your talent has far reaching effects

Meryl Streep may not know this, but the application of her talent in acting impacted me deeply in my relationship with my mom, after watching her stellar performance in the Oscar-winning movie, The Iron Lady, in a particularly moving scene where she longed for her son's visit and was painfully concealing her disappointment over the phone when he called to inform of his inability to visit.

As I watched, I felt the character's pain, so brilliantly brought forth by Meryl Streep, and finally understood my own mother's pain whenever she texted me asking when would I be visiting her and I'd procrastinate doing so because I was tired, busy or had seemingly more pressing matters at hand.

But seriously, what can be more important than the very one who gave me all she had, who made sure I had every chance of a proper shot in life, who endured daily sacrifices so my life would be better lived? I owe her this much - that I should honour her more than my own selfish intellect should have a say and demand its time and hold over me.

It takes an outsider, a stranger, for that matter of fact, to bring across such a pertinent point to me - that parents long for their children, more so in their old age, and it is our utmost responsibility and duty, to give of our time, money and resources to them who withheld nothing from us.

Lesson: Don't squander your talent, and don't underestimate your impact to others. Meryl Streep may not know what her talent did for me, but I'm thankful that she did what she does best, and in doing so, touched millions; my life, and my mother's, included.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

So I will rise again

"Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, so will I rise again..."

It's been liberating the past few months, taking a step back from a single-minded, one-track pursuit of a dream I hold so dear - to compete in the IronMan, and unleash my love for endurance sports.

While it is liberating on one hand, it has been emotionally draining on the other, as I tried to fill my life with things apart from swim, bike, run; and fail miserably at doing so. 

You see, despite my extroverted personality, I keep certain mundane routines, like eating the same food for months on end, listening to the same song over and over again, and running the same route every day for the past 3 years. 

So the truth be told, despite my withdrawal from IM Melbourne, despite my self declaration to re-evalute my motive for competing in IM, I continue to keep a humdrum routine of training, work and family, day in and day out. Social activities usually take a back seat. Like an addict, I can't function effectively without a daily dose of training, and keep to a strict routine of turning in to bed before 11pm in order to wake up at 3 or 4am to begin training, before heading to work.

And so I continue training and pushing myself to break my own limits every single day. 

Only difference is, I train now with a heightened conscience of my motive, and checking that what I do aligns with my purpose.

Every time I feel like I'm side tracking from my purpose in my sporting pursuit, I revisit my inspiration for triathlons. I don't claim to be anywhere near her standing and accomplishments, but I share her heartbeat for the sport and her clarity of her mission through the sport.

"When I first turned professional 4 ½ years ago I said to my then coach “Brett, I feel so selfish, everything I do in this sport is for me and me alone”. His response “Just you wait Chrissie, within a couple of years, through your achievements, you will be able to affect more change than you ever thought possible”. His prophecy has come true. I have said it before, and I will say it again, sport has phenomenal, far-reaching amazing power. It is a vehicle to do great things." 

-an excerpt from Chrissie's blog:

And so this is my driving force, my guiding light: I have been blessed with amazing resources at my disposal - a healthy body, a strong heart, a quick mind, a disciplined will, and a relentless spirit - I have a responsibility of putting myself and these resources to good use in my area of passion and commitment, and believe that when I do, I am living out my purpose, which has far-reaching effects.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Iron Redefined

The Ironman journey has helped many believe and accomplish things they never thought possible; unfortunately for me, it has caused me to spend more than I earn, made me extremely competitive and lose sight of the value of my decisions.

I'm glad for the timely wake up call to take a step back to reevaluate why I participate in the Ironman in the first place (was it purely for my own selfish gain, or was it for a larger cause?), and how I can be a better steward of my time, money and body.

During the three months I was in California, I encountered and befriended a bunch of incredible cyclists whose love for the great outdoors, warm hospitality to new riders, and extreme kindness to fellow riders humble me so. Their way of life embodies the true essence of sports and fitness - sporting for the well being of the body, mind and soul, and building great relationships and community.

I dug deep into my soul and am ashamed to find that I've tipped off the scale of true sporting pursuit. I was selfish, competitive, edgy, obsessive and reckless.

Remorse calls for radical action. And I did. I withdrew from a race I prepared many months for, with single minded focus - the Ironman Melbourne due to take place on 25 March 2012.

I lost a little of myself with my withdrawal from the race, but I'm certain what I'd gain in return would be so much more.

The return came very quickly. To my surprise, now that I'm off a demanding agenda as the Ironman, I'm running better timing than I did before, swimming happier and riding more efficiently. I am not ruled or boxed in by an obsessive need to keep to a strict training regime, and am liberated to take off to spend time with my family, without guilt.

In fact, the past two weeks spent with my family was the best I ever had and remembered in all my years. It's incredibly satisfying, the sacrifice made for quality family time - after all, we are nothing without our family; we are whole and complete, when rested and built upon the foundation of love found in family.

These said, I'm not a quitter, because I don't know how to. I hustle for what I believe in, for what I'm worth. This withdrawal from an important race is not the end of me, neither is it the end of my sporting pursuit.

I'm realigning my values and redefining my goals. And I'm making progress. Stand with me, believe with me - glorious days lie ahead.

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Fight of Life

How do we truly know what we want to achieve in life? We don't. We dream, aspire, plan, strategize; but we live one day at a time, take one step at a time, and along the way, realize that the path to our plans is often a surprisingly long and winding one; littered with potholes and road blocks, detours and off-roads, steep climbs and descends, misty low hanging clouds and penetrating sunshine.

And that's the beauty of life - that we don't just stroll through it - we fight for it.

And when we do, when we wake up every morning getting about the affairs and business of the day, this very act of obedience to the law of survival - that we have to work for what we need; and the law of nature - that we reap what we sow, by exchanging our time for money to trade in the economy of life for our daily survival and basic needs, and for many inspiring others, luxury wants; we progress mechanically but surely through the complexity of human chain, an essential link to the puzzle of our aspirations.

But what happens when we defy the laws of nature and attempt to escalate our growth process?

Unfortunately, for many a sad instances, we break free from the cycle, hanging vicariously by the thin thread of hope for a better future, only to fall into an abyss of uncertainty that surrounds, gropes and strangles our faintest light, and kicks us right back to where we began.

Yet for some, the courageous, the fighter, they dig deep into their beings, unleash the treasure within themselves, ad reveal gems that overcome the darkness.

Oh, that we may conquer, defeat and divide, as the latter warriors do - with utmost faith in an eternal truth that never fails - that your latter days shall be better than your former days; that you shall eat of the good of the land in the days of your living.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Reflections from San Francisco

3 week of brutal confrontation with the cold here in the Bay area, a fourth week of finally getting out on the roads, taking in the awe-inspiring beauty of California and making a merry lot of new friends, many of them decades older than I am; but way cooler, healthier and fitter.

It totally thrills me to see older men and women (in their 50s to 80s) keeping their fitness despite their age...

I see them working out at any odd hour in the gym, be it 5am, 12pm, 3pm or 5pm.

I see them riding on the roads, be it flats, steep climbs or death-defying, harrowing descends.

I see them happily married, working out together with their spouses in the gym or out riding on the roads.

What more can I say? It's incredibly heartening to behold such strength of the human body and soul, regardless of age. I am privileged, no, deeply privileged, to be where I am, doing what I do, seeing things I’ve never seen, learning things I never knew, experiencing culture and people that stretches my horizon out of a small square box I call ‘my mind’.